Circulating plasma metabolites and risk of rheumatoid arthritis in the nurses' health study

Su H. Chu, Jing Cui, Jeffrey A. Sparks, Bing Lu, Sara K. Tedeschi, Cameron B. Speyer, Laura Kay Moss, Marie L. Feser, Lindsay B. Kelmenson, Elizabeth A. Mewshaw, Jess D. Edison, Kevin D. Deane, Clary Clish, Jessica Lasky-Su, Elizabeth W. Karlson, Karen H. Costenbader*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Objectives. RA develops slowly over years. We tested for metabolic changes prior to RA onset using a large non-targeted metabolomics platform to identify novel pathways and advance understanding of RA development. Methods. Two hundred and fifty-four incident RA cases with plasma samples drawn pre-RA onset in the Nurses' Health Study (NHS) cohorts were matched 1:2 to 501 controls on age, race, menopause/post-menopausal hormone use and blood collection features. Relative abundances of 360 unique, known metabolites were measured. Conditional logistic regression analyses assessed associations between metabolites and incidence of RA, adjusted for age, smoking and BMI, accounting for multiple comparisons. Subgroup analyses investigated seropositive (seroþ) RA and RA within 5 years of sample collection. Significant metabolites were then tested in a female military pre-RA case-control study (n ¼ 290). Results. In the NHS, metabolites associated with RA and seroþRA in multivariable models included 4-acetamido-butanoate (odds ratio (OR) ¼ 0.80/S.D., 95% CI: 0.66, 0.95), N-acetylputrescine (OR ¼ 0.82, 95% CI: 0.69, 0.96), C5 carnitine (OR ¼ 0.84, 95% CI: 0.71, 0.99) and C5:1 carnitine (OR ¼ 0.81, 95% CI: 0.68, 0.95). These were involved primarily in polyamine and leucine, isoleucine and valine metabolism. Several metabolites associated with seroþRA within 5 years of diagnosis were replicated in the independent military cohort: C5 carnitine (OR ¼ 0.55, 95% CI: 0.33, 0.92), C5:1 carnitine (OR ¼ 0.62, 95% CI: 0.39, 0.99) and C3 carnitine (OR ¼ 0.57, 95% CI: 0.36, 0.91). Conclusion. Several metabolites were inversely associated with incidence of RA among women. Three short-chain acylcarnitines replicated in a smaller dataset and may reflect inflammation in the 5-year period prior to seroþRA diagnosis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3369-3379
Number of pages11
JournalRheumatology (United Kingdom)
Issue number11
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2020


  • Carnitines
  • Metabolites
  • Metabolomics
  • Pathogenesis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis


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